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Presidential Candidates Introduce New Version Of Marijuana Justice Act

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and several of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are joining forces on Thursday to re-file a new version of the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever introduced in Congress.

The bill, the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and withhold certain federal funding from states that disproportionately enforce marijuana criminalization laws against people of color and low-income individuals.

Watch Booker and colleagues discuss the legislation below:

The legislation would also automatically expunge past federal convictions for cannabis use and possession, as well as create a fund to reinvest in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said in a press release. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”

“But it’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs,” he said. “And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it’s justice.”

The legislation is initially cosponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year,” Sanders said. “Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs.”

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” said Gillibrand. “Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road. It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice. I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”

“Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk,” said Warren. ​

“Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It’s time to change that,” said Harris. “Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American.”

Wyden said that “the War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities. There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted.”

Bennet added: “This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It’s past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind.”

Reps. Barbra Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a House companion bill.

“Communities of color and low-income communities have been devastated by the War on Drugs,” Lee said. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I’m proud to sponsor legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, address the disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color by expunging criminal convictions, and promote equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry by investing in the communities hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs.”

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by misguided marijuana policy for far too long,” Khanna said. “Rep. Lee, Sen. Booker, and I are proud to introduce this important legislation and deliver justice for so many Americans.”

The funds withheld from states deemed to have discriminatory arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis would go toward a new community reinvestment fund, which would “establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs, which shall include providing grants to impacted communities for programs” that include libraries, community centers and job training.

People who have been “aggrieved by a disproportionate arrest rate or a disproportionate incarceration rate” would be able to file civil lawsuits against states under the bill.

During the last Congress, the Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act garnered six cosponsors in the Senate, while 43 House members signed on to that chamber’s version of the bill. Neither received hearings or votes.

Legalization advocates cheered the bill’s reintroduction.

“Cory Booker and Barbara Lee have single-handedly shifted the conversation in Congress on cannabis reform. The failures and harms caused by decades of cannabis prohibition, particularly the impact on low-income communities and communities of color, are undisputed,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “For decades, marijuana arrests, convictions, and subsequent collateral consequences have disrupted lives, which have also destroyed the social and economic fabric of certain communities. Now with Democrats in control of the House, it’s time to right these wrongs and advance this conversation even further by passing cannabis reform that is centered on criminal justice reform and economic empowerment of impacted communities.”

The new legislation’s language is identical to that filed last Congress, with the exception that the community reinvestment fund covers fiscal years 2020 through 2042 instead of 2018 through 2040 as in the last version.

“The Marijuana Justice Act is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation ever introduced to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and to address the egregious harms that this policy has wrought on already marginalized communities,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said. “This robust legislation not only removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but it also provides a path forward for the individuals and communities that have been most disproportionately impacted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”

Read the full text of the Marijuana Justice Act as introduced in the House below:

Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 by on Scribd

Where Presidential Candidate Cory Booker Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment

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The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.

The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.

“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.

“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.

The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.

McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.

While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.

The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Mitch McConnell Touts Hemp As He Proposes Raising Tobacco Purchase Age Limit

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Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications

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A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.

The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.

The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.

There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.

Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.

But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.

“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.

The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.

DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in  2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.

Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.

“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.

“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”

“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.

Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.

Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.

The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.

Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below: 

Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd

Presidential Candidates Are Cosponsoring A New Marijuana Descheduling Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections

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A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.

The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”

The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.

Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”

A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.

The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.

There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.

Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.

And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.

New Congressional Bill Aims To Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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